Category: indie beer

A Taste of AutumnLast month, we visited the pFriem Family…

A Taste of Autumn

Last month, we visited the pFriem Family Brewers tasting room on our way up the mountain to pick apples. The fresh hop beers weren’t quite ready, so we opted to try a selection of fall seasonals. The festbier was fine. The Jammy Pale was a little too much. But the Pumpkin Bier was surprisingly delicious. The weather was just turning and the subtle spices matched the chill. It smells like fall. Not like a Yankee candle approximating fall, like a kitchen full of baking pies and freshly fallen leaves. We only got a taste, but both Sarah and I wanted more. 

We picked up a couple corked bottles while stocking up on fresh hop IPAs and finally got around to them. The first thing that hit me from the bottled version was the Belgian yeast. Those classic yeasty phenols gave off a clove-like scent which mingled nicely with the added spices, cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice. The beer definitely lost some of it’s subtle squash flavor in the refrigerator. Drunk fresh, it has a subtle roast vegetable sweetness. The finish is dry with a hint of heat from the fresh ginger. It’s hard to recreate the same experience as at the pub, but it was so, so close. 

Hop TonicIt’s been a while since we’ve sampled a good double…

Hop Tonic

It’s been a while since we’ve sampled a good double IPA. It seems that the new hazy IPA trend has been covering up a more sinister drop in alcohol. All the hazies I’ve seen lately are 7% ABV and under. Makes you wonder. 

But Hair of the Dog recently released Green Dot, an extra special 9.5% ABV version of their classic Blue Dot double IPA. It’s a boozy beast designed to deliver optimal hop flavor. Like a tincture, the higher alcohol absorbs hop oils and delivers the resins directly to the user. A spoonful honeyed malt sweetness meets a juicy fruit flavor – melon and mango – before being swept away in a therapeutic wave of floral piney bitterness. The finish is a little medicinal, like cherry cough syrup, completing the image.

Catch and ReleaseCaptured by Porches always sounded more like a…

Catch and Release

Captured by Porches always sounded more like a midwestern post-rock band than a brewery. The tiny operation has had many ups and downs over the last ten years. Somehow, despite bad press, some really off beers, and bouncing from Portland to St. Helens to Gresham, the little brewery that could keeps going. And they are now malting their own barley, too.

Captured by Porches is a one man operation, Dylan Goldsmith seems to make all the beer even after a decade in business. He started as a homebrewer supplying house parties. His homebrew was so popular, his friends never left, hanging on his porch all night – thus the name. 

The first Captured brewery was wedged into a weird space behind the Clinton St. Theatre on some hand-me-down equipment found on Craigslist. The brewery moved from cramped corner to cramped corner – from an old gas station on highway 30, to an industrial park in St. Helens, and now the backend of a health food store turned organic pizza pub in Gresham.

Captured By Porches has never garnered a lot of press. Every few years, someone hunts down Goldsmith for an interview about beer and homebrewing and sustainability, but he seems more interested in making beer than self promotion. They never opened a proper taproom, but they entered the Portland food cart scene. The Captured by Porches beer buses popped up all over town selling beer from converted campers to thirsty foodies.

But a few years ago, Goldsmith and his business partner/wife broke up. He kept the brewery; she got the beer buses. The brewery nearly fell off the face of the earth. The business had to pull distribution and focus on the smaller accounts that actually sold the beer. They continue to sell beer at local farmer’s markets and in small grocers and bottle shops but you won’t see Captured by Porches in the Whole Foods anymore. 

But I’ve been hesitant to pick up anything new from Captured, their beers do not have a great reputation. Their Invasive Species IPA made it into the finals of our grand all Oregon IPA taste off in 2012, then flunked out when we got two very off bottles. They had notable issues in the early 2010s with swing top bottles which were often infected, and came with a dollar bottle deposit. Those early bottles soured reviewers on RateBeer and BeerAdvocate. A single bad bottle can turn into even worse word of mouth.

But I was at the local co-op grocery and in between the hazy IPAs was Wind & Rain ESB. I had a hankering for something a little maltier, so I picked it up. It wasn’t until I got home that I learned the beer was made with Full Pint barley bred at Oregon State University, grown locally, and malted at the brewery. In 

2015, Captured by Porches started malting nearly all the grain in their beers. That’s insane. I had to try it.

Wind & Rain is a malty brew with a lot of character. It’s not just sweet or toasty. It’s tastes like bran flakes or wild rice. It’s slightly, slightly smokey. The caramel notes are kept in check by a firm bitterness and a hint of yeasty fruit. One sip and I was hooked. What else could they be making? So I went pack for an Oregon Sunshine golden ale and the reformulated Invasive Species. Both have a tasty malt flavor, but each shows off a different side of the grain.

Oregon Sunshine is like a sandwich, nice toasted bread notes with a seedy, grassy flavor topped with a hint of pickle and an oniony umami. Invasive Species is an old school IPA with plenty of bitterness backed by a malty sweetness. The flavor is toasted, nearly burnt like popcorn heated on the stovetop. There’s a raw grassiness underneath emphasized by the old school pine and citrus hops.

In a market dominated by massive multinational craft brewers – and small brewers aiming to become massive multinationals, it’s intriguing to see a truly tiny business overcome some serious struggles and continues to push the envelope. And somehow, despite using their own hand malted grain, Captured can still sell pint sized bottles for less than five bucks. If you see them around, I encourage you to give them another try. 

Cleaning the CellarThere are some old beers in our closet. A…

Cleaning the Cellar

There are some old beers in our closet. A fine layer of dust has settled on the vintage Abyss bottles. But a few bottles seem to are coated in either extra thick dust particles or a very thin layer of mold. It’s powdery and white. That can’t be good. Maybe it’s time to rearrange and clean things up. But first, let’s drink some beer.

Billy the Mountain is Upright Brewing’s old ale

based on 19th century English brews. It’s a blend of fresh young beer and aged, sort of sour, beer. This particular bottle is from the 2016 release. Billy is a rich malty brew that evokes a certain rustic elegance. Tart notes of bing cherries and black grapes come more from the skins than the fruit. It’s dry and tannic. Under the vinous jam is a layer of brown bread and leather. Despite the mildew, it seems to be holding up just fine.

I took everything out of the closet, and wiped down all everything before returning it. The culprit seems to be an old bottle of Cantillon Kriek. There was a drip line leading from the capped cork. It must have sprung a leak at some point. Yikes. I’m not sure if I’ll be sampling that particular vintage.

To Beer or Not to Beer?Fruity IPAs are beer for people who don’t…

To Beer or Not to Beer?

Fruity IPAs are beer for people who don’t like beer. It’s an argument I’ve seen popping up a lot lately. Mostly from people who never liked hazy IPAs to begin with. But they have a point. The ultimate goal of these beers is resemble anything but beer. Despite using traditional beer ingredients like wheat and oats and hops, the beer tastes like mango, guava, orange juice. With the extreme cloudiness, most barely look like beers anymore. 

For example, Fort George is now canning a rotating selection of hazy IPAs under the moniker Fields of Green. The latest incarnation is codenamed Eleanor and features all the big hitters in fruity hops – 

Hallertau Blanc, Meridian, Idaho 7, Mosaic. It tastes more like a fancy mimosa than beer. No. It tastes more like birthday punch than beer. Two liters of 7up and one can of frozen juice concentrate. It’s delicious. But it doesn’t taste like beer.

That’s not a negative. There is plenty of room in the beer world for beer flavored beer and not so beer flavored beer. I just wish beer flavored beers would get equal time in the media.

Birthdays and AnniversariesOn the last day of April, this bottle…

Birthdays and Anniversaries

On the last day of April, this bottle of Collage turned six years old, so we drank it to mark our eighth anniversary. Marking anniversaries feels a little silly. Sarah and I were married in 2010, but we met in probably September of 2006 and started dating in November, though that is just an estimate. When your friends with someone, how do you mark a first date? Also, who has a calendar handy when they’re making out?

Marking the birth of a beer is just as hard. Deschutes marks their Reserve Series beers with a best after date exactly one year from bottling. So we can assume it was bottled April 30, 2012. With a beer like Collage, there was a lot of work done before it hit bottles. The date on the side marks not so much the birth of the beer, but the end of a year long process of trial and error, blending and maturing. It’s just a like a wedding. A wedding ceremony marks the beginning of a marriage but also the continuation of a relationship. And like a good marriage, a good beer changes.

Collage started out as four separate beers from two breweries – Adam and Fred from Hair of the Dog, The Sotic and The Dissident from Deschutes. They were then aged in a wide variety of barrels – Bourbon, Pinot Noir, new American oak. Barrel aging isn’t an exact science, and it takes time for a beer to pick up the unique flavors of each vessel. Then there was a period of blending and further conditioning before the final product was bottled up.

Of course, the following years have been marked by additional changes. The body is softer, the bitterness is less edged, and the acidity is balanced by sweetness. The flavors are mellower. More caramel and less bourbon. More cranberry and less lemon. And the wafting scent of old broccoli could never ruin it.

Has this metaphor been tortured enough yet? Collage is still one of my favorite beers even six years on. And after eight years of marriage, Sarah is still my favorite person. 

Not Just a Phaze.I’ve decided to give these hazy IPAs another…

Not Just a Phaze.

I’ve decided to give these hazy IPAs another go. I had been avoiding them, last summer it seemed like everyone and their sister was jumping on the cloudy bandwagon, with very mixed results. But the trend seems to have staying power, and a local version seems to be emerging.

What The Fluff? from Baerlic Brewing is downright delicious. It has the usual light shade and cloudy appearance, but looks less like orange juice than some extreme New Englanders. The scent is all pineapple and citrus. The flavor is deceptively sharp, a suggestion of acid where none exists. It’s juicy, without tasting like Tropicana. The malt is almost untastable. The wheat in the grist adds plenty of body, but no bready flavors. And the finish has a nice firm bitterness, like seeds hidden in the center of a tangerine.

Breakside’s Kids These Haze has been on shelves a while, and I suspect our bottle was a little long in the tooth. It’s hazy, but far from opaque. If I was served a beer this clean three years ago, I wouldn’t blink an eye. It looks like a normal pale ale. It tastes like a normal pale ale. There is a hint of citrus, a suggestion of pine, but the body is a little weak and the flavors muted. It’s not terrible. But it is not great.

Pillowfist is a big hitter from Old Town Brewing. Again, it doesn’t look totally cloudy. Tons of tangy lemony limey flavor. A handful of cranberries thrown in for a bitter tartness. The finish is rind-like, bitter. Again, not exactly wheat flavored, but nice full body. None of the yogurty gak I find in the really milkshake-y varieties. 

Lastly, we have Mystery Cloud from Gigantic Brewing, their slightly less adventurous hazy IPA – the other one, PiñaCOOLada, features added coconut. It looks less overcast and more smoggy in the glass. The addition of Crystal hops give it a meyer lemon flavor, which adds interest to a field drowning in Mosaic’s funk. Soft bodied, but not doughy. 

The Northwestern-style New England-ish IPA seems to be emerging. It’s hazy, but see through. It’s fruity, but not super juicy. The flavors lean more toward citrus than mango, and the body is full, but not thick. Unlike earlier incarnations – which tasted so fresh, I wasn’t sure they were fully fermented – the current class of hazy IPA tastes finished, even polished. And many are very tasty.

Trumpian Imperial StoutDouble Mountain claims No Collusion is a…

Trumpian Imperial Stout

Double Mountain claims No Collusion is a non-collaborative stout, how can we really be sure? I smell coconut, so they’re must be something illegal going on. Someone dumped old coffee beans and burnt wood in there, too. Probably trying to hide the evidence. It’s not a witch hunt, there is something tangy in this stout. Is that black hearted licorice? Leathery skinned old plums? Also: Alcohol.

They say you can’t mix business and politics. You’ll alienate half your audience! they scream. But I think, in this case, Double Mountain can get away with it. At worst, thirty percent of the nation will boycott. But they only drink vodka anyway.

Look at that Cat!Sometimes, you buy a beer because it’s new….

Look at that Cat!

Sometimes, you buy a beer because it’s new. Sometimes, you buy a beer because it’s old. Sometimes, you buy a beer because the can is so darn cute. I know nothing about Yo-Ho Brewing or

Suiyoubi

No Neko, but I love that cat. 

This is ostensibly a Belgian white ale, but if you saw it in the glass, you’d never guess it was brewed with wheat.

Suiyoubi

No Neko

is brilliantly, sparklingly clear. All trace of yeast or protein has been scrubbed away. There are still notes of yeasty spice and a wheaty smoothness to the body. The finish is crisp leaving a kiss of spice on the tongue. Despite its lagerish good looks, Suiyobi No Neko tastes more like a wit than that one moon themed ale. 

It’s hard to find information on Yo-Ho Brewing – in English anyway. But I did learn Suiyoubi No Neko means the Cat on Saturday, which is all I really need to know.

Repeat the PatternAnother week, another new release from Upright…

Repeat the Pattern

Another week, another new release from Upright Brewing. This time, they are back to form with a blended saison featuring lemongrass and black limes aged in gin and vermouth barrels. And it’s only six and a half percent alcohol. Ostinato is incredibly light but packed with flavor. The tangy scent of limes mingles with the sheepy smell of wild yeast. The citrus flavor is punctuated with light botanical flourishes. And the finish is dry and funky. It’s a rustic table beer, perfect for any meal.